Over the weekend, IVCC inducted the 1987-88 and 1988-89 men’s basketball teams into its Hall of Fame.
Those Apache teams combined to go 57-11 under legendary coach Dean Riley. The ‘87-88 team placed third at the NJCAA Division II National Tournament, while many of the same players returned the next year for a squad that won 23 consecutive games and became the first team ever to go unbeaten in the North Central Conference.
When looking back on their time in Oglesby last week, several players fondly recalled the community support during those two seasons.
Those Apaches filled up both sides of the bleachers, sometimes had standing room only crowds and even signed autographs after games.
“The thing that I thought was most impressive our two years was junior college basketball was important in this area,” said Ottawa boys basketball coach Mark Cooper, who played center on those teams. “The gym was sold out. We had newspapers covering every game we played and two radio stations covering games. There were people waiting for autographs after games. It’s kind of hard to fathom that now that that happened, but back in the winters those two years, the thing to do on Saturday night was to go out on the hilltop in Oglesby and watch the Apaches.”
It certainly is hard to fathom.
Nowadays, IVCC can’t even fill one side of the bleachers.
The question is, can the Eagles ever pack the place like the Apaches did back in the day?
IVCC men’s basketball coach and athletic director Tommy Canale certainly thinks so.
“I think it’s possible,” Canale said. “It’s something I’ve been trying to do since I walked in the front door.
“I think people think that was then and it can never happen again. That’s not my philosophy. I think if it was done once, it can be done again. I just don’t buy into (thinking IVCC can’t sell out again). I think it can always be that way.”
When Canale first arrived at IVCC, he sensed part of the problem wase the type of players on the Eagles’ roster. Now the team features several area players, including St. Bede graduate Alec Schwab and Princeton alumnus Michael Murray.
“Before I came in, there was dissention about the type of kids brought into the program,” Canale said. “Maybe people questioned their character or why they were here. I think we’ve taken care of that by recruiting as many in-district kids as possible.”
Still, the Eagles don’t draw well.
“I hear they want a winner. We have had five-plus winning seasons,” Canale said. “I’m not really sure why they don’t come out and support. I think it’s needed because the crowd can be a big factor in the game. Our kids would love to have a sold out crowd.”
Aside from the benefit for the team, Canale feels IVCC games can be a social event where people can connect.
Canale keeps hoping for the day he’s in the locker room pre-game and someone comes in to tell him he needs to put the other side of the bleachers down.
Until then, he plans to keep working to draw fans.
“We’ve done different promotions,” Canale said. “We’ve done about as much as we can do from my end. The games have been on the radio in the past. I just think that we can continue to promote and push and let people know we have great quality programs. Not just the men, but them women, too. They’ve been to the national tournament twice in the last three years.”
The IVCC men’s and women’s teams return to action Thursday in Oglesby against Black Hawk in Arrowhead Conference games. The women’s game tips off at 5:30 p.m. with the men to follow.
After Thursday there are still several chances to see the Eagles at home before IVCC hosts the Region Tournament in March. For the full schedule, visit www.ivcc.edu/athletics.
Kevin Chlum is the NewsTribune Sports Editor. He can be reached at 220-6939, or at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @NT_SportsEditor.